It is widely recognised within the UN that the success of the Ban Treaty Conference was not just down to the work of the governmental diplomats. Failure by the succeeding reviews of the NPT to bring its signatories into accord with their obligation to disarm was of grave concern to the majority of the UN states who have agreed not to acquire nuclear weapons but fear the effects of their use on the entire world. Essential to the adoption of the Treaty was the work of nuclear disarmament campaigners, nuclear victims, climate change scientists and disaster response agencies, notably the International Red Cross and Red Crescent. Their input informed and directed the negotiations that led to the drafting and adoption of this important legally-binding treaty which was adopted at the UN in July 2017 at a diplomatic conference established by the UN General Assembly. Only one state participating in the conference, the Netherlands, voted against, on the grounds that the TPNW would not be compatible with its NATO obligations. while a second, Singapore, abstained. The Treaty was opened for signature on 20 September 2017, with Brazil becoming its first signatory.
Key to the development of the TPNW was the Humanitarian Initiative, in which governments, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, various United Nations agencies, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and other non-governmental organizations from 2010 began working together to reframe the debate on nuclear weapons.
The Humanitarian Initiative was begun by Austria. Instead of the rhetoric adopted by powerful states about their perceived security, the focus was shifted to address the catastrophic, persistent effects of nuclear weapons on people and the environment everywhere. These effects were discussed at three major inter-governmental conferences , in Oslo, Norway in March 2013, in Nayarit, Mexico in February 2014, and in Vienna, Austria in December 2014. where the need to“fill the legal gap” in the international regime governing nuclear weapons became an imperative. This led to the UN establishing an Open-Ended Working Group which met and to discuss new legal measures and which recommended the negotiation of a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons to the UN General Assembly. The UN then convened a conference in 2017 to negotiate “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. Later that year, ICAN was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for its contribution to the process.
Nuclear armed states have opposed the whole process for the TPNW, despite their acceptance of other prohibition treaties which have changed the world’s view of inhumane weapons, and recognising their universal unacceptability. As the TPNW progresses we are seeing a similar transformation.